With Valentine’s Day approaching, we’re spotlighting real couples who cook together, from our book Two in the Kitchen. Here, they share their tricks, first-hand experience and entertaining know-how gained from time shared in the kitchen.
A James Beard-nominated pastry chef, Mindy is the owner of HotChocolate Restaurant and Dessert Bar in Chicago. Her writing has been featured in numerous national publications. In their free time, Mindy and Dan can be found searching for antiques or drinking craft beer all over the world.
How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Do you have a favorite dish to share? Or a favorite recipe for a romantic dinner for two?
We celebrate Valentine’s Day at the restaurant. I’m a hopeless romantic and still believe in Valentine’s Day. Dan believes every day is Valentine’s Day. We usually eat a quiet dinner alone in our favorite corner of the restaurant.
When we got engaged I changed the menu at HotChocolate to celebrate. I added a Honey Pie and a dessert named Dan-O-Banana.
What was your first home-cooked meal as a couple?
Grilled fish. We went to Isaacson and Sons together for the first time. We bought a small fish we hadn’t eaten before, but it seemed interesting. Dan gutted the fish and it took two hours. He grilled it and it was awful. Really, really awful. We left and went out for dinner.
What’s your favorite thing about cooking together?
I love the process of discussing what we want, planning, and shopping together. Planning and preparing the meal together is more fun than actually eating it.
How do you set the mood?
We use tons of votive candles to make the space feel special and intimate.
Dan usually craves a big, warm pot of beans. For me, it’s bagels and lox.
What’s your favorite brunch recipe?
My favorite is ham off the bone, grits and an egg sunny-side up.
What is the one kitchen item you can’t live without?
A cast iron pan.
Do you have any suggestions for must-have items when you’re just starting out?
Get a good set of knives, a great cutting board and a classic, all-around cookbook. My favorite is The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.
Any tips for entertaining for a large group?
Have a game plan and be organized. Make a prep list days in advance and choose a menu that can be prepared before the day of the dinner. For anything that needs to be made the day of the event, choose a recipe that can be cooked à la minute.
What advice did you receive when you first started cooking that has stuck?
Gordon Sinclair once told me, “Respect the classics, keep it simple and stop reinventing the wheel.” I took his advice to heart and have never forgotten it.
Any advice do you have for couples who aspire to cook or entertain more?
Cook from your heart and your soul. Choose the menu based on what you want to cook and serve, not what you think you should serve.
What’s the coolest thing your significant other taught you in the kitchen?
Patience, save your scraps and always serve gravy on Thanksgiving.
Any tips for pairing wine with food?
Don’t worry about following a set of rules. Drink what you like and eat it with what you love. If there is room for beer, pair your courses with great craft beers.
Find more advice and recipes for cooking together in our book Two in the Kitchen.